Director: Mohit Suri
Writer: Mohit Suri & Aseem Arora
Cast: John Abraham, Disha Patani, Tara Sutaria, Arjun Kapoor
Ek Villain Returns prides itself in being one step ahead of the viewer – it’s always a little worse than you think it is. One moment always manages to be more imbecilic than the previous one. One twist is always more nonsensical than the previous one. In fact, this is the sort of stunningly bad film that leaves you wondering whether you’re impressed or defeated. It’s hard to tell one feeling from the other on such days. Is cringing the same as reverse-grinning?
There’s a South Indian detective who yells “Shucks!” when he’s upset – and he’s only the 10th worst thing about this film. There’s a tiger in a zoo named Hero who only feasts on hacked-up female body parts – and this big kittycat is only the seventh daftest thing about this film. There’s a rich man-child whose motto is “dying is better than losing”; who takes revenge on an ex by crashing her wedding, kissing her and then dumping her; who proves his love to a girl by ‘jokingly’ assaulting and traumatising her rival; who flirts with a woman by complimenting her bust size; whom Kabir Singh would be best buddies with – and he’s only the fifth worst thing about this film. There’s a docile cab driver who goes around targeting girls who break hearts because his cheating girlfriend’s hormones rage at the sight of him being a toxic man and she then rates him in stars and smiley faces before having wild sex with him while sliding towards a cutting machine – and this bondage-forward couple is only the third worst thing about this film. There’s a climactic twist that beggars belief – and it’s only the 15th worst thing about this film. There’s not a single hummable song – and that’s undoubtedly the worst thing about this film. Of all the crimes Ek Villain Returns commits, its inability to hide its atrocities behind a banging soundtrack is easily the most heinous. What has the world come to if the music of a Mohit Suri movie is as invisible as its writing?
The spiritual sequel to Ek Villain (2014) follows the same narrative template, if one can call it that. I’m going to sound casual about the premise here, but believe me when I say that it took me nearly all of the film’s 127-minute running time to first understand – and then fathom – the sheer audacity of the plot. It’s impossible to give away any major spoilers because even if I do, no reader in their right mind might believe me. If I said that a shark crawls onto Mumbai’s streets and targets only vegans, would you believe me? I thought not. Like its predecessor, the film is the unfortunate consequence of two colliding stories. One is a troubled love story between a villain-like hero (Arjun Kapoor) and a whiny singer (Tara Sutaria); it’s hard to tell who’s doing the dumping after a while. The second story – or is it the first? – is a troubled love story between a hero-like villain (John Abraham) and a homicidal salesgirl (Disha Patani). The man from one story kills or kidnaps the girl from the other, and the man from the other story sets out to avenge this act. That’s the Ek Villain franchise in a woman-hating nutshell.
Performances-wise, the smiley mask worn by the killer shows some range. The good part about bad acting in a thriller is that every character tends to look equally suspicious. This is also a movie so punch-drunk on a non-linear narrative that every time something bizarre happens – like a murder, a breakup, an emotion – the timeline harks back to six months ago. But even these flashbacks stay tantalisingly incomplete, so that the next one can reveal the events from three months ago. It’s the equivalent of a story opening with a retired film critic living in the mountains and doing penance, only for the flashback to show this person watching Ek Villain Returns in the recent past. The next flashback shows this person writing about the film. The next reveals a character on screen yelling “Don’t forget to rate me!” followed by said critic yelling “Zero stars!” in the middle of the film.